IFAQ (Infrequently Asked Questions)

The Author

The Author

Here are some questions that were put to me by Susan (a book discussion club friend):

Q: Was this your first attempt at writing? 

A: Irish Firebrands is my first foray into fiction. I really thought it  would be a one-hit wonder, but at about 60,000 words into it, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to provide a satisfactory resolution for Medb, and that to keep my reader(s) from hunting me down with pitchforks and burning me at the stake, I’d have to write a sequel for her. Then, suddenly, about ten more related story ideas bloomed between my ears!

Q: Can you describe the central characters and the general premise?

A: This is from the back cover blurb and the ad on my E-Store page at CreateSpace:

The Celtic Tiger economy is losing its teeth, so celebrity journalist Dillon Carroll must rent out his ancestral home in the Gaeltacht. The worsening exchange rate is depleting the travel budget of genealogist Lana Pedersen, so the baby-boomer backpacker breaks into a vacant farmhouse for shelter. From the night the Irishman discovers the American at Drumcarroll, their tangent lives catalyze the chemistry between their beleaguered bodies and stormy spirits.

Dillon grapples with a lifetime of losses: driven by compulsion and caught in the toils of transference, he now pursues Lana with the tenacity of an investigative reporter. Lana’s efforts to counter Dillon’s obsessions and control her own rollercoaster emotions are complicated by her involvement with Frank Halligan, a dairy farmer who possesses unusual avocations and a way with women; and her mentorship of troubled teenager Medb McManus.

Set against the stunning scenery, stirring music and social controversies of 21st-century Ireland, Irish Firebrands is a contemporary romantic-inspirational melodrama that portrays the psychological crises that can shake the foundations of faith.

Two lands. Two lives. Two loves. Terrible questions – tragic secrets. Touched by madness – torn by vows. Fleeing the past – fearing the future. A quest for deliverance – and evocative evidence that love is eternal….

Q: What sort of reaction are you getting from people who have read the book?

A  woman, aged 29, said it pushed all the right buttons. She said she could identify with Lana, and would like to be friends with her. (This reader also said she loved Dillon and absolutely hated Frank.) A man, aged 24, said it was “a good story.” Another  man, aged 26, said, “I’d have called the cops on that woman!”

Q: Do you do a lot of research? 

A: I do tons of research, but only tiny bits ever get into the finished writing. Those tiny bits of truth glue together the tissue of “lies” that is the real nature of fiction. The other reason for research is to help me identify with the persons, place and time I’m writing about. That’s the “method acting” part that goes into being a novelist.

Q: What would you advise new writers – of any age – about getting started or about selecting a topic?

If you’ve got an idea – go for it! You don’t need a degree in creative writing (or any other kind of degree, although higher education does help). If you aren’t good with spelling, punctuation and grammar, you must brush up on it, but do that as you write – don’t keep the Muse waiting. There was a point, perhaps 75,000 words into the thing, when I began to wonder if I was doing “it” right – whatever “it” was – so I read a bunch of “how to write” books, and by golly, I WAS doing it right! Here are my recommendations for learning the basics (read these while you’re writing – don’t wait to finish them):

My two all-time favorites are Stephen King’s On Writing and Les Edgerton’s Hooked. I also learned a lot from Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure, Leigh Michaels’s On Writing Romance, and Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun & Profit. My copy of the “little book” – Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, which I acquired new 40 years ago is well thumbed – although when I set out to write Irish Firebrands, one of my motives was to be the Best Bad Writer in the West (stylistically speaking, that is). Of course, 99.44% good grammar and spelling are non-negotiable, although I enjoy being somewhat creative with punctuation – but while still remaining within the parameters set by Lynne Truss in Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Invest in an Oxford Concise English (not American) Dictionary, and find an old Webster’s Collegiate American dictionary (dated no later than 1944) at a used bookstore. Keep them at chair-side when you’re in writing mode. Use the TV only to watch research videos.

As far as selecting a topic – I think the TOPIC selects YOU. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to write a story about, just do it. Or, if you read a book and then think, “DANG! I could write better than THAT!” give it a whirl. But I would stay away from trying to copycat the “trendy” stuff, no matter how much you like it. For example, there’s far too much very poor imitation Rowling and Tolkien and C.S. Lewis out there. Write using good grammar, spelling and punctuation, in your own style or “voice” (but NOT in the first person singular – it’s too difficult for new writers to do that well), about something that sets you on fire. That’s what makes good reading.


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